I set my alarm to wake me (too) early this morning so I could catch the horses as they were being driven from their nighttime grazing pastures into the corrals down at the barn.
I thought maybe I could get some really dramatic photos of the stampede of hooves thundering through the gates with their chilled breathe blowing in the crisp air… You know, the kind you see in Cowboys and Indians Magazine.
But, that’s what I was thinking last night when I padded around my room, preparing the coffee so I would only have to flip the switch while I sat in bed for a few minutes longer, waiting for it to brew.
THE ALARM WENT OFF!
I nearly fell out of bed the alarm was SO LOUD and ill-tuned to some scratchy 80s rock station.
Why was I getting out of bed? I couldn’t remember as I flipped on the coffee. Oh yeah, I’m going to photograph the thundering herd.
So, I pulled on my sweats. With mug in hand, I stepped outside.
And then stepped right back in.
Who opened the freezer while I was sleeping?!
No wonder nobody lives in Wyoming… Here we were in the apex of summer, and this morning, I could hang meat off of my front porch swing.
OK, regrouping – I put on all of my clothes and walked outside to meet the early morning hours in horsegods playground.
THE THUNDERING HERD
As I made my way to the R Lazy S Ranch barn, once again I was struck by the majesty and awesome presence of the Tetons. I had to take some photos. The hard part was that the photos don’t appear the way it really is here.
I feel like I’m living in a postcard.
Anyway, after I tried to capture what master photogs have been trying to photograph for a hundred years, I turned my attention to the Thundering Herd which should have been coming around the bend at just about any moment now.
I could hear the Wranglers whoop whooping and cracking their bullwhips to move the horses into the work corrals.
Whoop! Whoooop! Ai Ai! Yip Yip! Crack! CRACK! Whooopppp, Whooop!
And then they came…
The Thundering Herd of… one.
Then another. Then a few more. I counted four. 4 sets of walking hooves sauntered into the corral.
Horses (strolling by as I hung on the fence): What?! Yeah, we know where we’re supposed to go. We do this every single day. What’s the big rush? We’ll get there. Hold your drawers on.
Me: That’s it? I wanted THUNDERING HOOVES.
Horses: Well, you came to the wrong place. We don’t do thundering hooves. We’re ranch horses. We save our energy.
Me: Where are all the others?
Horses: They’ll be here. Eventually.
Me: But… what about all the whoop whooping and cracking of the bull whip…?
Horses: We think that makes the Humans feel like cowboys but we just ignore it, pretty much. Mostly we trot a little to humor them. Then we walk in and some of us hide.
Horses: Yeah. It’s fun to see how long it takes for the two-leggers to find us. When they do find us, we rush out and hide somewhere else. So. Much. Fun.!
After about 20 minutes, the entire herd had casually walked into the corrals.
So much for that.
These horses are fat, happy and been there/done that.
I walked away smiling to myself… that was funny.
THE ASSEMBLY LINE
One of the wranglers was talking about the ‘chute’ with me. I had no idea what she meant.
I had asked her how they could possibly get 35-40 horses ready every morning.
She said, “Oh, the chute makes it so easy to get the horses ready for the guests.”
Well, today, as I was waiting for the herd to crawl in, I noted the chute. It was basically an aisle with gates on both ends and three tack/med rooms in between.
It just so happened that Sky was moving through the shoot right as I was studying the system.
I took photos but basically, the wranglers have a big chart of which horse goes with which guest and what tack that horse will need to wear.
The main Wrangler, Dan, mills through the mostly sleeping horses (yes, they all, I swear, came into the corrals and promptly started sleeping.) and pulled out who was needed, one by one.
Sky was chosen. He walked through the first gate and it closed. Sky knew what to do. He walked to the first open door.
This is where the pit crew went to work. Out popped three wranglers. One had a curry comb, another a brush and the third was making sure there were no suspect boo-boos as he slathered on the sunscreen.
Sky then moved forward to the second door where the next pit crew sprung into action. Saddle pad, saddle and bridle!
Except, Sky wasn’t really into having his bridle put on this morning… so he moved ahead without it.
The last Wrangler in the assembly line worked with Sky and bridled him. Then, he tucked in all the ropes, straps and reins and set Sky loose in the “They’re done!” corral.
All the tacked horses milled around the “They’re done!” corral, looking like they were all dressed up with no place to go. It was quite an unusual sight to see fully tacked horses wandering around with no riders…
MOVE ‘EM OUT!
Once all the horses for a particular ride are ready, the Wranglers round up the specific guests and get them onboard.
They have several mounting blocks, which is nice to see… No newbies hanging on saddle horns.
And then – they’re off!
I have to say, the Wranglers do a terrific job. They are all happy, careful, entertaining and they visibly like the horses and their charges.
Spending a week here has its advantages because you get to know the Wranglers a bit. Lots of talk happens on trail rides and although all are careful to keep decorum, I’ve learned some interesting tidbits.
–The Wranglers get here a month before the season opens. During that time, they have to ride all day – all different horses. They clear the trails and train/tune/evaluate the horses.
–Most of the Wranglers say that it is tough work but great work.
–The crew eats the same food as the Guests
–The crew loves their employers.
–Most of the Wranglers are college educated. A few grew up Eventing. A few grew up on ranches, some play polo, another grew up on this very ranch…
–The Wranglers start work at 6:30am. They get two days off a week.
–Sick horses are laid up and tended to either there or on WD’s ranch a few miles away.
–They have 2 babies a year. These babies live in the front pastures and the guests love to watch them grow.
–The donkey, Angel, has been on the ranch for at least 25 years.
–All the equines winter several miles away in Du Bois. (much lower in altitude)
–Only some of the horses are suited for wrangling. Independent horses who don’t fret when their friends run off are the best wrangler horses.
–Wrangler Dan has been matching horses with guests for 30 years. He can probably do it in his sleep.
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